Bahai News - Moody's Magic Earns Bouquets

Moody's Magic Earns Bouquets

By Mike Zwerin    International Herald Tribune

NEW YORK - King Pleasure's version of Eddie Jefferson's vocal adaptation of James Moody's classic alto saxophone improvisation on ''I'm in the Mood for Love'' became a hit called ''Moody's Mood for Love.'' James Moody's own vocal version of their vocal interpretation of his solo adds up to a triple twist he likes to laugh about. Combined with an engaging stage presence and a bubbling sense of humor, his no-nonsense, top-echelon improvising makes him a unique performer. On a good night, most nights, he is just about unbeatable.

James and Linda Moody were holding hands in the back seat of a town car on their way to a radio interview in Newark, New Jersey. It was the Friday before a big ''James Moody 75th Birthday Bash'' on April 3 at Avery Fisher Hall, sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The mayor of Newark, where Moody was raised, had proclaimed it ''James Moody Day.''

''The big thing about Monday,'' he said, ''is that it's also our 11th anniversary. We were married on a Monday. I'm telling you, it's wonderful. Traveling gets a lot better when my wife comes with me.'' There is a color photo of the two of them hugging and smiling on their collaborative calling card. Their e-mail address is ''mood4love.'' In September, they will travel together to concerts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Moody joined Dizzy Gillespie in 1946, after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Air Corps. Apart from a number of years working in the Las Vegas version of a day job, he was Gillespie's featured soloist, musical director, stand-in and sidekick off and on for 47 years. They teamed up on the memorable giggler ''Swing Low Sweet Cadillac.'' They both became members of the Bahai church.

The Moodys, who met at a Bahai church, live in San Diego. Linda is a real estate broker, James drives a ''sharp little Mercedes my wife got me.''

Newark was sparkling under a blue spring sky. He had not been back in many years. He was excited, pointing out the landmarks of his youth, mostly torn down: ''Look how that's changed. Man oh man. I started coming down here to look at the saxophones in music store windows. I must have been 10. I liked the way saxophones looked. My mother lived in North Newark. She was 86 when she died.''

His maternal grandfather played trumpet with circus bands. His father played trumpet with Tiny Bradshaw's band. Moody's Uncle Louis, 87, who gave him his first saxophone when he was 15, was coming in from South Carolina for the birthday bash. The Moodys' hotel suite was so full of flowers they could hardly walk around. Daisies, roses and lilies from Bill and Camille Cosby, and bouquets from Lincoln Center and from Peter and Stacey Jennings.

Moody does not tend to his own garden at home in San Diego. The gardener comes in on Wednesdays. ''I go to the health-food store to get my garden,'' he said. He's vegetarian. ''I can't learn how to play my major scales if I'm out there mowing the lawn. I still practice my scales. That's the truth, man. I practice eight hours a day. Tell him, honey. If I don't practice I know I'll regret it before long. Everything must change, and if I practice just maybe it will help change it for the better.''

In the studios of WBGO-FM, he told the host of the show, Michael Bourne, that, like Charlie Parker, his first influence had been Jimmy Dorsey. He liked Dorsey's recording of ''Oodles of Noodles.'' Bourne said that he had seen him in his role as an eccentric dog walker in the Clint Eastwood movie ''In the Garden of Good and Evil.'' Moody was born in Savannah, where it was made.

After the broadcast of a recording on which he played flute, Moody was modest: ''I'm not a flautist. I call myself a 'flute holder.' I got a flute by a fluke.'' He savored the sound of that: ''You know, people ask me why I'm always clowning. I guess that's just the way I is.'' He paused a beat for the Fats Wallerism to sink in: ''Bill Cosby says that it's usually 1 o'clock in the morning before I get through kissing everybody.''

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MOODY continued in a more serious vein: ''Music can go as high as you want to take it. Or it can go very low. When somebody doesn't know anything about music, they will play a simple triad and take it up a half-step and think they are really into something. That's what a lot of rock people do. I'm not knocking it. It's just that you don't want somebody to be able to pull the wool over your brain. I'm saying that education is the key. The more educated your ear becomes the more you are able to absorb something interesting when it is thrown out at you. Jazz is uplifting music. Jazz makes you think. You are not only being entertained. You say, 'Oh boy, that's beautiful. How was that done? I'd like to find out how to do that.'''

The next afternoon, on the West Side of Manhattan, Wynton Marsalis was directing the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra rehearsing Lalo Schifrin's arrangement of ''Happy Birthday.'' Guest stars included Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross. The members of the orchestra were mostly two generations younger than the guest stars. After they ran down Gil Fuller's 1947 composition ''Things to Come,'' Moody marveled that it still sounded like music of the future, and that he had first played it with Gillespie more than 50 years ago when most of the musicians in the orchestra had not yet been born. ''I hate to say this,'' remarked an old-timer on the sidelines, ''but their mothers probably weren't even born yet.''


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